President Muhammadu Buhari has expressed deep sadness over the death of poet laureate, Dr. Ikeogu Oke, last Saturday at the National Hospital in Abuja, after a brief illness.
According to the News Agency of Nigeria, the President, in a statement issued by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, in Abuja on Monday, condoled with the family of the deceased and members of the literary community.
Describing Oke as a vibrant, intelligent and innovative writer, Buhari said that he was constantly in search of solutions to the challenges facing the society.
Stressing that the writer had helped to enrich Nigeria’s literary space through his poetry, the President urged all Nigerians to honour Oke’s memory by imbibing the messages in his works.
Our correspondent gathered that the deceased, who won the prestigious Nigeria Prize for Literature in 2017 with his book titled The Heresiad, died of Cancer of the Pancreas.
A comment posted on Facebook by a friend of the writer, Joel Nwokeoma, indicated that Oke kept the knowledge of his terminal ailment from his friends, colleagues and other members of the public before he succumbed to it.
Commenting on the poet’s passage, the President of the Association of Nigerian Authors, Mallam Denja Abdullahi, said, “Ikeogu Oke was a consummate artist. He lived and breathed poetry. He was one of the few writers who lived on his writing. The Nigeria Prize for Literature, which he won in 2017, was a deserved reward for his lifelong commitment to poetry. Unfortunately he did not live long enough to enjoy the fruits of his labour as a poet.
“Oke was a committed member of ANA who had actively participated in the major events organised by the association in recent times. He was also a good friend of mine, affable, gentle, hardworking and somewhat, stubbornly principled. Poetry and poets will surely miss him.”
Other writers and members of ANA, including a former General-Secretary of the association, Hyacinth Obunseh, took turns, between Sunday and Monday, to express their grief at the sudden death of the poet laureate.
Describing Oke as the ‘king of poetry’, Obunseh wrote, “Ikeogu Oke left indelible footprints on the sands of time. He also left behind a vacuum that will be difficult to fill.”
In her reaction to the sad event, another writer, Chinyere Obi-Obasi recalled how she and a former President of ANA, Dr. Wale Okediran, honoured the deceased when he won the Nigeria Liquefied and Natural Gas Company sponsored Nigeria Prize for Literature.
“It was one event that I thoroughly enjoyed hosting. Ikeogu was a responsible man, an excellent poet and a patriotic Nigerian rolled in one. It is painful to think that he died at the peak of his career as a writer. When I realised that I would never see him again, I wept,” she said.
The writer who actually broke the news of Oke’s death, Maxim Uzoatu, has not quite recovered from the shock. Expressing his grief on Facebook, he wrote, “My brother, Ikeogu, I am as good as dead as I write this. On the night of the book party, following your being on the NLNG Prize shortlist you insisted on buying me very expensive beer in the posh hotel you were lodged.
“When the NLNG officers asked for a copy of your book before the announcement of the winning entry, you asked me from Abuja to deliver the copy you had autographed for me to the NLNG Lagos office. When I saw you at Ojoto for the Christopher Okigbo soiree you looked ill and I was really worried. Now this!”
For Joel Nwokeoma, Oke’s sudden death struck a hard, painful chord, like the passage of a dear sibling. He said, “Ndigbo have lost a rare gem who promoted Igbo language in his literary works. Nigeria has lost a literary giant of no mean repute. And I lost a great friend, brother and firm believer.”
Also, poet and journalist, Betty Abbah, in an emotional tribute to Oke, recounted how he inspired her to embrace creative writing.
She wrote, “Long before Ikeogu Oke won the Nigeria Prize for Literature, riding on the wings of his poetic endeavour, , some of us had known Ikeogu’s creative genius. At the University of Calabar, he was beyond doubt the most prolific and most colourful poet in the English and Literary Studies Department.
“He was a senior that many of us held in awe. A restless and unforgettable soul, he was the one who saw and created poetry from everything-a casual conversation, a fleeting encounter, the physical attributes of a classmate of mine with whom he fell in love-just about everything-and never forgetting his trademark musical rhyming at each verse’s end.
“In recent years, his poetic ingenuity became more visible and more alluring to the outside world with the additional feathers of performance poetry that he brought into his practice and through which he promoted the Igbo culture (Ohafia in particular) on local and international platforms, while also creatively breathing life into his thoughts on universal themes, his trademark animal skin accessory, wrapper, traditional cap and other paraphernalia to boot.
“I owe Ikeogu an eternal debt of gratitude. He alongside other seniors helped nurture my literary talent from when I made a naïve entry into UNICAL.”